by Bei Zamora
Beneath the clouds of helicopters and the rain of yellow confetti stood those who swore to never forget.
The 30th anniversary celebration of the first People Power Revolution, the historic mass movement which brought former President Ferdinand Marcos’s dictatorship to ashes, did not fail to awe the public with its guests of honor.
From President Benigno Aquino III himself to EDSA I veterans such as former President Fidel V. Ramos, it was as if the revolt had not transpired three decades into the past but was instead happening in present.
But despite the promise of keeping the spirit of EDSA and the dark reality of the Martial Law era alive, it seems that all of us—even those who vowed would never do so—are capable of forgetting.
On Feb. 25, 2016, the day that marked the 30th year of EDSA I, Edita Burgos was spending her time in the province, away from the lavish celebrations in the capital.
She was doing one of the things she was best at: remembering.
Although more popular as the wife of late free speech icon Jose Burgos Jr., what history fails to tell us is that Edita was also the general manager of newspapers We Forum and Ang Pahayagang Malaya (The Independent Newspaper), two alternative media which played pivotal roles in the overthrow of Marcos.
More than the triumph of the collective action of the Filipino people, she described Marcos’s downfall as a legacy of the “mosquito press”.
She recalled that being a woman during this dark chapter in history did not make a difference and only put them in equal ranks with men in the profession.
“Sa Malaya we had a lot of female journalists. A lot of the female reporters were even more spunky and enterprising than the males,” she said.
Proudly, she stated that Malaya had the first female editor-in-chief in the Philippines, Lourdes ‘ Chuchay’ Fernandez.
All the same, being a member of the press during Martial Law, she recounted, was very difficult.
With the looming threat of military raids and the watchful eye of the government, there was always a need to change their office from one place to another. For Edita and her colleagues, impending danger could not have been any more lifelike.
“There was an element of courage, an element for truth, for freedom,” she recalled.
Besides the possibility of raids, the likelihood of hindered publication was also high; however, this proved to be the opposite of an obstacle as Edita described the devotion of all those involved in the newspapers. From the administration to production to even the maintenance staff, commitment was consistent.
According to her, everything they published caused a massive effect on the public. One story in particular, however, came to mind.
“Kasi right after it was published, he [President Marcos] was holding a copy of the newspaper, I think he was talking during Veterans’ Day and sabi niya ‘Pakakain ko ‘tong dyaryong ito sa publishers.’” Edita remembered with a hint of pride in her voice.
She said that these stories amounted to lives saved during the Martial Law era.
Come 30 years after EDSA I, however, Edita was not among those honored with the People Power Award.
But these awards hold no large significance on her. Instead, the EDSA veteran looks forward to the rewards of a place outside this life.
Much like her husband, she said she does not seek to be rewarded on this earth but instead looks forward to the gifts of a life she believes would come after this one.
In the commemoration, the award was given to the family of late Inquirer editor-in-chief Letty Jimenez-Magsanoc and Inquirer founding chair Eugenia Duran-Apostol for their work on Mr. & Ms. Special Edition, another press effort that helped bring the dictatorship to its downfall.
According to reports by Inquirer.net, EDSA People Power Commission spokesperson Celso Santiago chose the recipients to introduce them to the youth as journalists who dared to release “correct information” during the Martial Law.
Edita also commended the contributions of the two women during EDSA I, saying that Malaya and We Forum were not monopolies.
For those part of the mosquito press during the EDSA revolution, including herself, Edita claimed the present media enjoy the freedom that the Martial Law era never let them have.
The President also echoed this sentiment, stressing the difference of press freedom then and now in his speech during the 30th commemoration of EDSA I.
“Sa sitwasyon niyo ngayon, hindi madaling unawain na minsan sa kasaysayan natin, hindi naging madaling makakalap ng impormasyon,” Aquino said.
“Noon…Ang natitirang laman ng pahayagan, pawang propaganda na lang. Noon, kung palarin kang makakuha ng kopya ng artikulong ipinagbabawal, nagkakandarapa kang itago ito sa mga elemento ng Batas Militar, dahil kung mahuli ka ay sapat nang dahilan ito para makulong ka nang walang taning at nang walang kasong nakasampa,” he added.
In retrospect, EDSA I provided massive relief for those who were under control of Martial Law. What came after is often described as the rise of democracy and dawn of a new age.
Although far from the looming threat of military raids and total absence of press freedom, some problems present in the Martial Law era continue to plague the country.
While Marcos’s iron fist had unclenched thirty years ago, media killings still persist in the country.
With the Ampatuan Maguindanao massacre reaching its seventh anniversary in November of this year, the lives of 52 civilians including 32 media workers who were killed in the line of duty still await justice along with the 23 cases of media-related murders under the current administration, as reported by the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility and National Union of Journalists of the Philippines.
This was meet with Malacanang issuing a statement saying President Aquino is bent on solving cases of media killings in the Philippines.
In addition to this, Aquino explained not all cases were work-related and that law enforcement agencies involved withheld information as consideration for the victims’ families.
Beyond the issue of press freedom, the case of political prisoners still exists in modern day.
Edita’s son, activist Jonas Burgos, is but one of those whose disappearances are yet to be explained.
“I think it’s tragic na hanggang ngayon yung kanilang problema hindi inaaddress ng government. I don’t know why, I don’t know if they’re scared,” she said.
The persistence of these problems, however, stands as testament to the fact that change is yet to come even after overthrowing a president. Although different from how they manifested during the Martial Law, violence and repression fall under the guise of invisibility but nevertheless exist in more ways than one.
With the persisting culture of impunity, EDSA I still goes on.
After its goal of overthrowing a dictator off of his throne, the revolution of thirty years ago still seeks to fight the evils that it had originally been up against, and in doing so, the enduring spirit of EDSA shall free itself from the colors that stain it and expose it for what it really is–a fight fought by the Filipino people for the right to their own sovereignty.